Oliver bobbed his head up and down in agreement. He flashed the man a gap-toothed smile.
“Cameron!” Jasper called out, addressing the dark-haired man. “We need a table for four, please.” He gestured toward Maggie and Oliver. “This is Tobias’s niece, Maggie Richards. You two might have met back when Maggie visited Love as a child.” Jasper flashed her another pearly smile. “Maggie, this is my grandson, Cameron Prescott. He owns this delightful establishment.” Pride rang out in Jasper’s voice.
Cameron stuck out his hand by way of greeting. “Nice to see you again after all these years. It’s been a long time. I’m happy to hear you’ll be opening up Keepsakes soon.”
“It’s wonderful to be back,” Maggie said. “And I’m very excited about the shop. Oliver and I have been very blessed by Uncle Tobias.” Maggie didn’t even have the words to express her gratitude about this opportunity. Her heart was filled almost to overflowing.
Maggie had vowed to be more courageous in her life. Fear had always been such a stumbling block. It was one of the reasons she’d stayed with Sam for so long and put up with his run-ins with the law and his inability to hold a job.
If anyone had told her a year ago that she would move to Alaska in order to run her uncle’s shop, Maggie never would have believed them.
“And we’re very grateful to have you back in Love,” Hazel added. It had been Hazel who had called Maggie to tell her about her uncle’s death. Then weeks later she’d called again to direct her to call the executor of her uncle’s estate to inquire about her inheritance.
Upon hearing all the details about her inheritance, Maggie wanted to pinch herself. In one fell swoop, her entire life had changed. She grinned at Hazel. Maggie couldn’t believe she was standing next to the impressive woman who had created the genuine Alaskan Lovely boots that had taken the country by storm. Uncle Tobias had told her all about Hazel’s creation of the boots and the way the town of Love had set up a business to mass-produce them.
Maggie couldn’t really put her gratitude into words without explaining about the major losses she’d endured and the shameful circumstances of Sam’s death. It had cost her everything she’d worked so hard to build for her family. And she couldn’t afford to talk about it to anyone in this town. She’d uprooted her entire life in order to start over here in Love. And she wasn’t going to tarnish it by revealing her deepest, darkest shame.
Maggie wanted to be respected in this town. She wanted her son to be free of any stigma.
Maggie felt a tug on her sleeve. “Mommy. Can I go over to the jukebox?” She looked down at Oliver, who was pointing toward a tomato-red jukebox sitting in the corner of the room.
“Why don’t I show you how it works?” Cameron suggested. “Make yourselves comfortable at any table you like.”
Cameron walked away with Oliver at his side. Maggie watched them for a moment, feeling wistful about the lack of men in her son’s life. It made her ache to remember how many nights Oliver had cried himself to sleep over his father.
“Tobias told us about the loss of your husband when it happened. He was heartbroken for you and Oliver.” Jasper turned toward her and cleared his throat. “Maggie, Pastor Jack told us about the tragic circumstances.”
Maggie felt her eyes widening. A wild thumping began in her chest. The jig was up. Her secret had been exposed. “How did he know about it?”
“He contacted the pastor at your church to find out if we could do anything to make your transition to Love any easier. Although we already knew you were a widow, we didn’t know the specifics.”
“W-what did Pastor Baxter tell him?” she asked, her heart in her throat. Lord, please don’t let everyone here in Love know already about Sam holding up the grocery store. I want to protect my son. He’s innocent in all of this. It will be just like back home all over again. Name-calling. Finger-pointing. Judgment.
Jasper looked at her with sad eyes. “He told Pastor Jack that your husband was killed in a grocery store holdup.” He made a tutting sound. “It’s so very tragic for your family.” He began patting her on the back.
Maggie felt her shoulders slump in relief. She felt horrible for allowing this version of the story to go unchallenged, but for Oliver’s sake she had to keep quiet. He’d endured enough. And he was just a little boy. She couldn’t let the sins of the father be visited on the son.
“Grief is a process, Maggie. We know you’re probably still trying to wrap your head around such a profound loss.” Jasper’s blue eyes became misty. “Never fear. We’re here for you. We’re going to make sure y’all have a joyful holiday season.”
“Thank you, Jasper. I feel very blessed to receive such a warm welcome here in Love.” Maggie blinked several times, doing her best to hold back the tide of tears.
Suddenly, Oliver came racing to her side. “Mom. Sophie said I can go in the kitchen and make my own pizza.”
Sophie—the beautiful, Titian-haired waitress standing behind Oliver—was smiling down at her son as if he’d hung the moon. This town really was full of genuinely kind folks.
“Oliver is going to help me make a masterpiece,” Sophie said with a grin. The Southern twang and the red-and-white Santa hat perched on her head only made her appear more adorable, Maggie realized.
“That sounds like fun,” Jasper said with a nod. “I think I’m going to come with you and take some notes so I can whip up a pizza at home.”
Hazel let out a groan. “That’s all I need,” she groused. “I can already smell the burned pizza.”
Jasper scowled at Hazel.
“Come on, Jasper,” Oliver said, tugging at the mayor’s sleeve.
The look etched on Oliver’s face said it all. There hadn’t been a lot of smiles or laughter in the last year. Lately, Oliver had begun to turn a corner, but his grief had been all consuming for such a long period of time. He had shrunken down into a quieter, less joyful version of himself. Maggie wanted the old Oliver back, the one who laughed with abandon and didn’t seem afraid of the world around him. With Christmas coming in four weeks, she wanted Oliver to experience the wonder of an Alaskan Christmas.
At least for the moment her son seemed to be over the moon. She prayed this new adventure didn’t get old. Love, Alaska, was a small, quaint town where everyone knew each other. Maybe over time they would be embraced by the townsfolk.